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Sonoma Index-Tribune Editorial: Racist graffiti at Sonoma Valley Regional Library is hate crime

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

This editorial is from the Sonoma Index-Tribune:

On a cold day in November, Sonoma Valley Regional Library manager Sabine Salek arrived at work and found vile racism painted on the building. The N-word. It may have been misspelled, it may have been in a substance that was easy to remove, but the impact would be much longer lasting.

It was a crime that hit with eerie silence. There was no public outrage. It was reported as simple vandalism despite the use of a phrase that carries such hostility and has the power to strike such fear.

It wasn’t until the Sonoma County Library faced another incident of racial hate, at its Sebastopol branch, where a Black Lives Matter flag was burned, that a statement was made. That was Feb. 7, 75 days after the abhorrent word was washed off the side of Sonoma’s local library.

In this critical time of racial reckoning, following the high-profile success of the Black Lives Matter movement, we must do more as a community to speak out against these acts of aggression. To show hate has no home here, it is imperative we act swiftly to demonstrate zero tolerance for any acts of racism.

Sonoma, as a valley and a county, has struggled to address the systemic and overt racism that percolates in our communities. Students of color in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District have reported receiving racial slurs from their white peers. A slew of high-profile Black women have left leadership positions around the county, citing racism they faced in those roles.

The years of effort to exclude and segregate our region can be seen in UC Berkeley’s report “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area.” It notes, “Although Sonoma (County) is 62 percent white … 2 of the 9 incorporated cities in Sonoma have more than an 80 percent white population: Sebastopol and Sonoma City, and are therefore the most segregated cities for whites. On the flip side, just two cities have less than a 60 percent white population, Santa Rosa and Cloverdale.”

The UC report goes on to say, “In many respects, Sonoma (County) is a counterpart to Marin in that it is a place where white families are exceptionally segregated from people of color. Three of the six whitest segregated neighborhoods in the Bay Area are found in Sonoma …”

With distinctions like this, it’s even more important that we stand up to racism proactively, without waiting for public outrage. We need institutional outrage, for our leaders to stand up and say: “This is unacceptable, we will not allow this to go unpunished.”

Silence only supports the attacker. Silence signals a passive acceptance from the top and sends the message: We turn a blind eye to hate speech. With a crime this vile, this hurtful to the Black community, labeling it as anything other than a hate crime is unacceptable.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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